Biochemical Soul Musings on Nature, Science, Evolution, Biology, and Education

18Apr/09Off

Nature Walk #4.4 – Plants & Fungi

Spring is Here!

This Nature Walk edition continues from #4.3 - Reptiles, Amphibians, & Mammals.

I've broken this post up into four parts due to the large number of images:

The images are highly compressed for bandwidth's sake, but you can click on the images for larger versions (and a few are much deserving of an extra click).

As always feel free to give me any species identifications where I have failed to do so or done so incorrectly.

Plants

I have next to zero skills when it comes to identifying plant species.  As such, the following will consist mostly of images with no real description. Don't get me wrong - I love me some botany. However, every time I learn a new plant, at least five other pieces of information fall from my skull. I'm just not that knowledgeable on  plants.

One defining characteristic of the Chapel Hill/Triangle region of North Carolina in the Spring is the blanketing of the land by invasive (but beautiful) Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis). This stuff is everywhere, covering large swaths of canopy, much like the invasive Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) which is also from China.

Wisteria

Wisteria

Wisteria

Wisteria

Wisteria

Wisteria

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) - a perennial Easter visual pleasure

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina Domestica) - Okay, so this is an ornamental as well.  It's still cool.

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina Domestica)

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina Domestica)

My property has quite a few various native ferns growing wild throughout the woods. I particularly love them this time of year when the new young leaves are still "fiddleheads."

Fern

Fern fiddlehead

Fern

Fern fiddlehead

Fern

Fern fiddlehead

Fern

Fern fiddlehead

I found this tiny unknown wildflower in the woods as well (anyone care to ID?):

Unknown flower

Unknown flower

I really love these very tiny spring flowers, also found wild in the woods.  They are Azure Bluets or Quaker ladies (Houstonia caerulea)

Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Another ornamental from home - the classic early bloomer Forsythia.

Forsythia

Forsythia

Climbing ivy from my front yard:

Ivy

Ivy

Ivy

Ivy

A random pretty leaf growing on the forest floor.  I found lots of these and would love to know what they are...

Unknown leaf

Unknown leaf

I took this shot just because it was really a quite lovely scene. The sun shone bright as a breeze drifted through a huge expanse of grass on campus.

Grass

Grass

A nice unfinished (and apparently abandoned) beaver-felled tree:

Beaver-felled tree

Beaver-felled tree

Epiphytic plants growing in a tree (technically these are probably not even normal epiphytes - the tree is basically acting like a pot, so the plants are probably in the ground for all they are concerned):

Plants in a tree

Plants in a tree

My ornamental peach:

<br /> Ornamental peach

Ornamental peach

The ground of my property is also covered in a variety of mosses:

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Fungi

Finally, I found a nice set of Puffball Fungi growing on the base of a tree. I have no idea what they are beyond that...

Puffball Fungus

Puffball Fungus

And that is the end of this latest collection of my observations of nature. The reason I love doing this is that it gives me the perfect excuse to do a little research and learn a little bit about the organisms surrounding me, particularly on how to identify them.

Hopefully, you all get a little bit out of it as well.

See the rest of this Nature Walk:

18Apr/09Off

Nature Walk #4.3 – Reptiles, Amphibians, & Mammals

Spring is Here!

This Nature Walk edition continues from #4.2 - Birds.

I've broken this post up into four parts due to the large number of images:

The images are highly compressed for bandwidth's sake, but you can click on the images for larger versions (and a few are much deserving of an extra click).

As always feel free to give me any species identifications where I have failed to do so or done so incorrectly.

Reptiles

One creature that exists by the thousands at the National Institute of Environmental Health Science is the turtle. If my identification skills serve me right, these are Florida Cooters (Pseudemys floridana) - though they could be one of a few different slider turtles. I really love the fact that there are turtles called cooters!

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Cooters perched on a beaver lodge

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Dead cooter. As Steve Irwin would say (in that awesome Aussie accent), "It's nature's way."

Amphibians

I just happened to look in a ditch at the spot where I eat my lunch. What did I see but hundreds of tadpoles.

Tadpoles

Tadpoles

Tadpoles

Tadpoles

Back in the swamp behind my house, which is currently flooded and filled with millions of chirping frogs, I came across quite a few Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans), though it was nigh impossible to get a shot of them.

Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans)

Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans)

Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans)

Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans)

Mammals

I happened to glance down a swath of land cleared for a high-power transmission line and saw a familiar lone figure staring back at me. It was a White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Of course, these are a dime a dozen at my workplace as I've shown you before. Yesterday I managed to get a good shot of a deer's backside as he looked back at me.  You can even see the nubs of his little antlers poking through.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

"Take a Picture - It Will Last Longer"

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

"Get one of my guns too!"

Also in the flooded marsh behind my property, almost every single surface was covered with the shape of deer hooves.

Deer Tracks

Deer Tracks

If I don't see at least fifty Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) in a day...I probably haven't gotten out of bed.

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Ain't he cute?

As a rare treat, I managed to spot the elusive Carolina Forest Cow (Bos notrealicus).

Cow

Carolina Forest Cow (Bos notrealicus)

And finally, in the wee hours of a beautiful Spring morn, I awoke to the bloodcurdling hungry cries (and annoying paws to my sleeping face) of three not-so-big Carolina wildcats:

The Rare White Ocelot (Felix spoiledieai)

Cat

Rare White Ocelot (Felix spoiledieai)

The Marbled Manx (Felix epililepticus)

Cat

Marbled Manx (Felix epililepticus)

The Pygmy Jaguar (Felix obnoxious)

Cat

Pygmy Jaguar (Felix obnoxious)

Apparently all three of these magnificent beasts are part of some scientific study. You can tell by the radiotelemetric tracking tags affixed to their necks.

See the rest of this Nature Walk:

18Apr/09Off

Nature Walk #4.2 – Birds

Spring is Here!

This Nature Walk edition continues from #4.1 - Arthopods.

I've broken this post up into four parts due to the large number of images:

The images are highly compressed for bandwidth's sake, but you can click on the images for larger versions (and a few are much deserving of an extra click).

As always feel free to give me any species identifications where I have failed to do so or done so incorrectly.

Birds

Other than all the other scurrying, fluttering, swimming, and pulsing critters of the world, birds are my favorite.

I've managed to snap quite a few good bird images over the past few days (though more eluded me, such as the dastardly killdeer that continually thwarted my focusing attempts). Here are some of them.

First, the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis). This bird was hanging out over by the Environmental Protection Agency (near the NIEHS). It was quite a distant shot, but turned out pretty well, considering. I am rarely able to get close enough to bluebirds around here. They're just so skittish.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

This next is my favorite bluebird image ever. Today I just happened to walk by this birdhouse nestled in in the woods at the treeline (the NIEHS campus is covered with them), and I saw this single eye staring out at me.  Priceless!

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

"Please don't eat me, please don't eat me, please don't eat me!"

And the cutest thing I've seen this spring: a Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) mother with eleven ducklings.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Swimming among the algal mats - Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Check out the front baby's face! - Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

And to top it off, I even have some video:

As I've mentioned before, one of the great things about the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (and the EPA) is the large lake in the middle of campus. We are a stopping ground for all sorts of migratory water fowl, with several species appearing and dissappearing throughout the year. (see the ruddy ducks from a previous Nature Walk)

One bird that I've seen alot of this year is the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus).

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus

So regal!

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

"Do I look fatter to you?"

Of course, our campus is infamous for the gazillion Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) that stalk the grounds.  Right now the females are mostly nested, with the males hovering nearby - both ready to start a hissy fit (literally) if you get near the nests.

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)

"Back off!"

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)

"And you think we don't have teeth"

To truly appreciate their menacing display (more hiss than bite) you must see the video:

Don't worry - this goose was not overly stressed by me.  They nest about 3 feet from the walking trail. This female makes this display probably about a hundred times per day as each jogger strolls by.  It's quite hilarious actually. One has to admire their ability to keep up the front (I know of quite a few people who find them dangerous and terrifying - trust me, they are neither once you've figured out their game. It's the same as a defensive opossum: open your mouth and hiss alot - that's it).

As I was walking along, a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) plopped down right next to me.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) coming in for a landing

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Back at the homestead, I captured another priceless avian expression: an American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) suddenly noticing that I had snuck up behind the feeder.

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

Nearby, a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) skittered up the huge poplar tree in my front yard:

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

A Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched as well.

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

Finally, I managed to capture a far away American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) scoping the farmland below for tasty treats. I grew up calling these "Sparrow Hawks," which is apparently a common misnomer - they are actually falcons (not hawks).

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

Who says the dinosaurs went extinct?

See the rest of this Nature Walk:


18Apr/09Off

Nature Walk #4.1 – Arthropods

Spring is Here!

Days like these remind me what I love so much about the South...warm Springs exploding with life.

This edition of my series of Nature Walks is a big one. I took all of the following images over the past few days - some on my lunch break, some at the NIEHS campus, some at home, and some simply next to the road on my daily commute. So perhaps "Nature Walk" is a misnomer for this edition, but it suffices. Even while staring at the lake through my windows at work I am walking nature in my mind (unless I'm sectioning brains).

I've broken this post up into four parts due to the large number of images:

The images are highly compressed for bandwidth's sake, but you can click on the images for larger versions (and a few are much deserving of an extra click).

As always feel free to give me any species identifications where I have failed to do so or done so incorrectly.

Arthropods

The first thing I'd like to note is that if you haven't visited Bugguide.net before, you should check it out.  It is an utterly indispensable online reference for everything arthropod. I almost never fail to identify insects using it (and it has quite a few experts and educated amateur entomologists always willing to help in identification).

My wife walked into the house white-faced a couple of days ago. She had gone into my shed for a tool.  This is what she saw:

Dolomedes tenebrosus spider

Dolomedes tenebrosus spider

Dolomedes tenebrosus spider

"Go ahead - touch me - I dare you"

Dolomedes tenebrosus spider

Dolomedes tenebrosus spider

It's a Dolomedes tenebrosus spider. She's a lovely beast. She keeps my shed relatively bug-free.

I saw this next spider at the pond back behind my property today. It's a Six-Spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton). Interestingly, I learned that it is of the same genus as the monster above, though they are massively different in size, color, habit, and habitat. They both belong to the family of Fishing Spiders (though the first one does not live on water).

Dolomedes triton spider

Dolomedes triton spider

Dolomedes triton spider

Dolomedes triton spider

While turning over some leaves, I found this brilliantly colored orb-weaver, (I believe it's a Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus)).

Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus)

Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus)

At lunch I struggled to capture an image of this stunning beauty of a Coleopteran. It would sit still as I focused, then dart about a foot forward in a blink - I would move, refocus - rinse and repeat... It's a Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata). What luck! Two different species with "Six-spotted" in the common name (the beetle and the spider above).

Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Of course, the Azaleas are in full bloom at the homestead, and are of course covered in bees, flies, and butterflies.

Here's a Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Next is the Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica). I know they are carpenter bees because they drill into my wood-paneled house. This is followed by hungry red-bellied woodpeckers drilling into said wood to retrieve the hymenopteran snacks.  This is followed by me patching and repainting the woodpeckers' hack job. It's a semi-circle of life.

(Note: If you haven't seen it, you must check out my story from earlier today: The Carpenter Bee and Her Mate: A Heartwarming (and Dissapointing) Tale of Rescue.

Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica)

Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica)

A bee (Anthophila (Apoidea) - Bees) of unknown identity (I couldn't even peg it to a family - help please? It was about half the size of the carpenter bees.

Unknown Bee

Unknown Bee

And some Ants (Formicidae) on a flower. I didn't even realize they were there until I checked out the image on my computer.  It was a tiny flower.

Unknown Ants

Unknown Ants

Finally, I found a nice specimen of what I believe is a Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) ootheca (egg case).

Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina)

Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina)

Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina)

Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina)

See the rest of this Nature Walk:


5Mar/09Off

Nature Walk #3 – Drive-By Whitetail Deer

Ok, so this one is more of a nature drive than a nature walk.

Today I had a half an hour to kill while waiting for a Western blot to run at work, so I took a quick drive around the NIEHS campus, which is typically covered with wildlife (see my last Nature Walk).

I was fortunate to see our local White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) herd out munching the new grass.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Run away....

Run away....

Should I be frightened?

Should I be frightened?

Check out my nubs

Check out my new antler nubs

"Hey Doey, get a load this guy..."

"Hey Doey, get a load this guy..."

The moment of the spook

The moment of the spook

I have nothing intelligent to add to these. This herd has about 10 individuals or so and can be seen several times a week.

Previous Nature Walks

  1. Hawks, Epiphytes, Woodpeckers and Orchids
  2. Birds and a Burger